Tips for teaching in low-resource areas

My first English teaching job was in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.  I had a box of chalk, a chalkboard, one florescent lightbulb, and two frayed wires sticking out of the wall that I had to (carefully) maneuver to spark so the bulb would flicker on.  That’s not to forget the nosy pigs outside my classroom and the braying donkey across the street.  We had no textbooks, no internet access, and limited copier access.  Surprisingly, it’s been one of my favorite teaching jobs in my life.

Access to funding for resources in English Language Teaching can vary widely depending on region and sponsorship.  Clearly, it’s easier to teach when there is access to resources than when there is not.  However, learning can still occur even without books, computers, and the like.  Here are some tips for those teaching in more limited settings where funds and resources are limited:

1.  Determine an overall direction/curriculum[1]

  • Analyze students’ needs
  • Analyze the cultural environment
  • Set learning goals
  • Decide how to assess progress

2.  Gather authentic materials.

  • If you have internet access, it’s a great place to find nearly anything you need!
  • When travelling, gather any materials in English to use in your classroom – brochures, advertisements, magazines.  They’ll provide great opportunities for students to practice reading authentic English.
  • Check libraries (if there are any) for materials in English.
  • Sing songs, recite poems.

3.  Get ideas from teacher forums.

  • Twitter feeds – use hashmarks (#) to search for terms like #ELT, #ESL, #EFL, #ESOL, #TESOL, #TESL, #TEFL.  Following twitter feeds helps like-minded people to each other.
  • LinkedIn groups for English Language Teachers
  • Dave’s ESL Cafe Idea Cookbook

Here are some helpful resources for those teaching English in low-resource situations:

ESL Teachers’ Book of Lists.  Filled with lists of anything an English teacher might need, this book provides a great starting point for those without textbooks or curriculum.

Lessons from nothing: Activities for language teaching with limited time and resources by Bruce Marland.  This site is specifically for young English language learners and has TONS of free PDF activities – lots of games, puzzles, and interactive activities.

Flashcard sites. Flashcards go a long way and can be used as far more than just flashcards – games, discussion prompters, partner activities, etc.  Here are a few free ones:

If you’ve taught in low resource areas, what have you found helpful?

[1] Richards, J. (2001). Curriculum development in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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